A Polish Prodigal Son



Like the Biblical Prodigal Son, after 60 years I returned to St. Joe’s Polish Camden at Christmas time and once again attended Mass in the most beautiful church in South Jersey. Just in time to be part of the Oct. 21, 120th anniversary celebration.

It is said, “It takes a village to raise a child.” Well, St. Joe’s and Whitman Park together were that village. All of us who lived in that parish in the 40s to 80s can remember what a wonderful place it was. There is no denying that St. Joe’s and the neighborhood had a deep influence on who and what we are today.

Every Sunday we had an Easter parade as families walked to church on the avenue or Tenth Street. Women in their finest millinery, men and boys in their Sunday suits.

At Christmas time, every house had “open house.” You were encouraged to visit as many neighbors as possible; no one was a stranger but a parishioner, and welcomed in every home.

Holy Saturday was another sight, as parents sent their children with their baskets of Easter delicacies to the church for the Traditional Blessing, some coming from more than a mile away. As they converged near the church, you would see the older children carrying two baskets to help the younger children. Then inside the church when they uncovered the baskets, full of kielbasa and krakowska to be blessed, and the aroma of garlic wafted “heavenward,” God knew where St. Joe’s was.

In the 18 years I lived in Whitman Park, I can’t recall ever seeing a police car or hearing of any crime. Time has passed and the neighborhood has changed, but the church is still there. There is no parish without community and there is no community without parish. We are both.

So, all of us Prodigals should make Holy Thursday and every Second Sunday of the month (in conjunction with the breakfast program), Prodigal Mass Day at St. Joe’s. Bring the whole family; aunts, uncles, children, grandchildren and relive those cherished times and memories. You will be glad you did. Contact St. Joe’s Polish rectory at 856-963-1285 for Mass times and information about secure parking arrangements.

John Filipkowski